TAMPA — The Bucs will have 19 undrafted free agents at this weekend's rookie minicamp, along with at least 16 more tryout players, all with hopes of making an NFL roster and facing difficult odds to pull it off.
Former Auburn running back Peyton Barber is as motivated as any of them.
"Definitely," said Barber, who has a chance to be the Bucs' No. 3 running back. "Your first impression is everything. I think this week should be a good week for me. I'm excited and ready to get to it."
Barber, 5 feet 10 and 228 pounds, was a surprise early entry into the draft, with only one season as a starter at Auburn, rushing for 1,017 yards and 13 touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore. He made headlines at the scouting combine in February when he said that one of his motivations to leave school early was to help his family.
"My mom, she's homeless right now," he told reporters.
That statement was an exaggeration. Lori Barber, who has been divorced from Peyton's father for 19 years, lives with her 27-year-old daughter, Jade, and Jade's three children in suburban Atlanta. Peyton stayed in their apartment at times this spring, and his motivation is to give them a better life, as even a modest NFL career would afford.
"What he meant is he wants to help his mom," his father, Ken, said. "I know that's what he said. She's had challenges, as anyone has. He wants to help his mom, and that's the bottom line."
There were other factors in Peyton's decision — the running back class for next year's draft looks to be talented and deep — but this wasn't a choice made lightly.
"In a perfect world, another year in college would help him a lot," said Gary Sylvestri, his running backs coach at Milton High in Georgia. "It's not a perfect world. He's going to work his butt off to get that opportunity."
Peyton — who is 30 credits, or basically a year, short of graduation at Auburn — left early hoping to be at least a late-round pick. A fifth-round pick may get a signing bonus of $250,000 or more before he plays a snap, and a seventh-round pick gets a bonus between $60,000 and $90,000.
Undrafted rookies generally get a bonus of $10,000 or less, if anything. Peyton said he got a small bonus as part of his contract but is more focused on the opportunity he has. If he makes the 53-man roster, the NFL minimum salary is $450,000, and even practice squad players can make about $112,000 over a full season.
"I can't afford to dwell on it," he said of being one of 30 underclassmen passed over in the draft. "It happened. What can I say? I'm undrafted. I've been given an opportunity to prove myself."
The Bucs sold him on their limited depth at running back. After Pro Bowl player Doug Martin and Charles Sims, they don't have another back that played in the NFL last season, so their No. 3 job is wide open.
"(Barber is) a fine young man with great integrity. Never had any issues at all in high school," Sylvestri said. "On the field, you want 22 Peyton Barbers playing for you."
Barber likes that he has two cousins who live in Tampa. This weekend he goes to work, eager to turn a dream into his real life with the Bucs.
"I'm a very hard worker," he said. "I'm confident. If there's something I don't know, I'm going to ask a question and I'm going to learn it. It's something I've been doing all my life."
TWO PICKS get deals: Fourth-round safety Ryan Smith signed and fifth-round tackle Caleb Benenoch agreed to terms Thursday. Smith, from North Carolina Central, is slotted to earn a $592,000 signing bonus as part of a four-year, $2.93 million rookie contract. Benenoch, from UCLA, is slotted to earn a $253,000 bonus as part of a four-year, $2.59 million contract.